It is baffling why the West is only now waking up to the strength of the combined forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS) and its (convenience) allies, ex-Baath forces and the Mujahideen Army, writes Abdelbari Atwan.
Since 30,000 Iraqi army troops stripped off their uniforms, threw away their guns and fled from Mosul and other overrun towns and cities, the US has decided that ISIS poses an existential threat to the whole region and, even, the whole world.
ISIS has been battling to topple the Syrian regime for at least two years, has occupied countless territories in both Syria and Iraq; it has also executed thousands of Iraqi and Syrian soldiers as documented in a videotape broadcast on its own websites and YouTube.
And yet it is only now, after intensive meetings of military and security leaders, and a build-up of media concern, that the West decides there is an imminent danger and decides to move some troops to the area – having contributed to the horrific situation in Iraq for the past ten years without, apparently, even noticing what was going on and, worse, what was inevitably coming.
We do ask in all innocence why President Barack Obama now puts all options on the table – including the military option – when ISIS has made these monumental advances in Iraq? He did not seem too concerned by their advances in Syria where Islamic factions, including al-Nusra, have been expanding their power and influence for the past three years.
Could it be because Iraq is famous for its oil, while Syria is famous for its pistachio nuts and tasty “Shami” ice-cream?
It is only a year ago, or less, that Iran was considered a demonic entity by the US and its European allies. And, in turn, America was the “great Satan” in the eyes of the Iranians. America and its Arab allies seemed determined to hit Iran as four aircraft carriers and several nuclear submarines dispatched to the warm waters of the Gulf suggest. So why are we seeing Washington cosying up so eagerly to Tehran these days; what has happened to capsize the former situation and transform enemies into allies?
Mr Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq’s Prime Minister, was America’s preferred candidate for the leadership, tasked with the job of rebuilding post-invasion Iraq. But Maliki has destroyed the Iraqi state, its infrastructure, its utilities, its services and – most lamentably – its civic unity. Maliki has adopted an autocratic and divisive leadership style that has caused other ethnic and sectarian leaders to describe him as “autocratic” and “authoritiarian.”
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, said in testimony before Congress that Iraqi forces had thrown away their arms and fled from Mosul because they doubted that the Maliki government was fair in its treatment of the people in that city. Chuck Hagel, US Defence Chief, blamed ISIS for the present chaos, but also criticized Maliki for having failed to piece together a truly representative national unity government in Iraq.
Mr Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, attending the recent meeting of Foreign Ministers of the OIC in Jeddah, announced that the Iraqi government had officially requested Washington to support and carry out air strikes against “terrorist” groups in accordance with the security agreement signed between the two countries.
Mr Zebari is shamelessly lying: there is no security pact between the two countries, for the simple reason that Maliki’s government refused to sign the agreement the Obama administration put forward because it provided for an ongoing presence of American troops. Hence Obama’s decision to withdraw all US troops in 2011. Those with longer memories will recall that this was heralded by Mr Maliki and his supporters as a great victory.
It is certain that America would agree to intervene militarily in Iraq and that the form this intervention will take is mostly drones since that does not involve the politically damaging problem of dead or wounded US soldiers. Drones will attempt to decimate ISIS forces and prevent them – and their allies in Mosul, Tikrit, Fallujah and Tall Afar – from advancing upon Baghdad.
The US will pursue this course of action either at the request of Maliki’s government or without it. If the Iraqi army, with 600,000 men, and tens of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons and training, fled before the advancing forces of ISIS, how would Maliki prevent any US intervention even if he wanted to?
A government that is unable to protect its people and cities regardless of sectarian ideology is not worth ruling Iraq.
Paradoxically, any airborne American intervention will be launched from bases in the Gulf, where regional leaders claim to stand opposed to US military intervention in Iraq, and have long supported the forces of ISIS and its parent organisation, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) – and their allies – both directly and indirectly. We are talking here about Saudi Arabia and Qatar, we have no desire to be cautious here but seek to call things by their proper titles.
We believe a plot is afoot. In an Iraqi TV interview, Maliki admitted that his forces had faced a “catastrophe” but were not defeated; he seemed confident that he would regain the upper hand. The plan is to increase the power and heat of the flames of sectarian war until it consumes the entire region, including all the Arab states and Iran and Turkey too.
America intervened the first time to destroy the Iraqi regime, secure Iraq’s oil for Western-led cartels, and promote the security of Israel; instead it got the Islamic State of Iraq and a sectarian government that fanned the flames of instability and civil strife.
Now, America is poised to intervene militarily for a second time; still claiming – after the failures of an entire decade – that it can transform Iraq into a regional model of democracy, happiness and stability.
America will strike from the air at an altitude of 30,000 feet, and who will pay the price for this great benefit? Any and every Iraqi whether Sunni or Shia who is unlucky enough to get in the way… and every chance of peace and security for years to come.