More forces sent to Iraq–are we falling into an escalatory trap?
Is the U.S. falling back into a trap in Iraq? This is the question being posed as news comes of about 130 more advisers being sent to Iraq. This on top of about 300 already there to say nothing of the “contractors” there that the U.S. is morally, if not contractually, obligated to defend if it comes to that.
U.S. strategy right now seems two-pronged: Beef up our Kurdish allies in the north, where they are coming under attack by ISIS forces; and be prepared to aid in the South if the parliament selects a Prime Minister not named Nouri al-Maliki as long as he takes concrete steps to form a more inclusive government. “More inclusive” translates as including more moderate Sunis in the government.
The assumption is that more moderate Sunis, dissatisfied with the extremism of ISIS, will flock back to a more inclusive national government.
Left out of this discussion is that all important three letter word: oil. The Kurds in the northeast have control of the giant Kirkuk oil fields. In the south, the oil fields are under Shia control. And therein lies the rub. Al Maliki seemed determined not to share revenues from those fields, in any meaningful way, with the Sunis. Just including more Sunis in the government without spelling out the sharing of oil revenues is unlikely to have a lasting peace, even without ISIS breathing down Baghdad’s throat.
In the northeast, the fierce reputation of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters convinced U.S. planners of their ability to keep out ISIS. Much American armaments have been provided to the Kurds, anticipating that this was all it would take to hold off the ISIS forces. Once again, our planners were shown to have significantly underestimated the power of ISIS. As a result, American weapons, including near state-of-the-art tanks that we sent to the Kurds, have fallen into ISIS hands. One step closer to the Kirkuk oil fields.
This, more than a humanitarian concern for the Yazidi religious minority under siege by ISIS, is what is behind the U .S. decision to use air power and send more “advisers” into the northeast of Iraq.
“This is not a combat boots on the ground kind of operation,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was quick to assert when informing the nation of the additional advisers going in. Sounds like word games to this writer. One wonders how many “advisers” and how much air power will be needed to defend Baghdad and south once a “more inclusive” Prime Minister forms a government.
To baby boomer and older liberals, the additional advisers sounds ominously reminiscent of the early days of Viet Nam. The fear is that once again we will be sucked into significant military involvement in Iraq.