Iraq: A mess as we reap what was sown.
Ninevah is that once great city in the north of today’s Iraq that sits on the East bank of the Tigris River . Located to the south of, and relatively close to, modern Turkey, it was formerly Capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. It has been, of course, primarily known in Western circles as the wicked city that a reluctant Prophet Jonah prophesied to. Today Ninevah is abandoned and lays directly across the Tigris River from the Iraqi city of Mosul, capital of the Ninevah Provence of Iraq, and a city of almost two million souls.
This past week the almost unthinkable happened. Mosul fell to the much smaller but obviously fiercer fighters from the radical, right-wing Islamic force of ISIS. Many government soldiers and police simply left their U.S. supplied weapons, tore off their uniforms and fled.
A key element in what has become a sectarian war, is that, in Mosul, the majority population are Sunnis, while the government forces that tried to stop ISIS are from the Shia sect. And how did this sudden loss of such an important city happen? The answer contains the key elements of the crisis facing the U.S. backed Iraqi government of Nouri Kamil Mohammed Hasan al-Maliki. And, the U.S. is faced with upping the ante by giving more direct military support to the Shia therefore siding in a sectarian war or risk seeing the government that we left in place when we withdrew our forces from Iraq fall to a radical-led Suni revolution that has the entire Levant in its sights.
Early on in the U.S.’s elective war against Sadaam Hussein and the mostly secular Suni rule in Iraq, George Bush was asked how he could reconcile establishing a Shia state in Iraq with U.S. geopolitical objectives. He replied that we didn’t send our troops into Iraq to establish a Shia state. Yet that is precisely what happened, given the manner in which we conducted our invasion.
Much has been written about the lack of short run planning following collapse of the Iraqi regime of Sadam Hussein. We failed to reestablish a semblance of law and order by not including the various Sunni police forces and military in the occupation army and police. What is worse, later on we allowed al-Maliki to renege on his promises to integrate the now minority Suns into his government and to treat them fairly when it came to dispersing the enormous oil monies from the wells in the south.
As a result, the Iraqi government is viewed as sectarian Shia practically pushing the less radical Suni armies into ISIS led campaigns.
Some, including Vice-President Joe Biden, have long felt that the only viable solution was to establish a tripartite division of the country with the Shia, the Suni and the Kurds, each in control of areas of their majority population. This, in my opinion, is naïve in the present circumstance and the reason is a three-letter word. Oil. The Kurds have control of the large Kirkuk oil fields, the Shia, the fields in the south, and the Sunni virtually nada. Rectifying this situation has so far proved unsuccessful. But U.S. support now seems critical for al-Maliki’s government, and perhaps we can finally extract some concessions from him regarding the division of oil revenue. Our focus should not waver from a negotiated settlement among parties that includes these elements. Perhaps we will have to give military support to the Shia government, but we should strictly limit that to support for the defense of Baghdad or other Shia dominated cities, while at the same time, negotiating the only kind of settlement that has a chance to produce peace. We have the leverage now, and we must make sure, this time, that more than unfulfilled promises are extracted from al Maliki. Suni countries that are our allies, such as Saudi Arabia, can serve as intermediaries to aide in negotiating a settlement.