US Middle East policy heralds a catastrophic 2015

Former US President Barack Obama

2015 may prove a nightmare for American strategy in the Middle East in particular, but also in other regions of the world, including the Ukraine, writes Abdel Bari Atwan.

The US has experienced military and political defeats on several fronts, forcing it to retreat and make many concessions. The only exception is with regard to the Palestinian issue, not because of the strengths of America but due to catastrophically weak Palestinian leadership.

The most distinguishing feature of the past year has been the rise of the “Islamic State” (IS) and the disintegration of the Iraqi army. IS controls territory the size of France, including two rivers, oil and gas wells, and huge stocks of grain.

isisIn addition, it is in charge of a population of more than eight million, continues to accumulate money from its assets and also taxation, and has its own army of 100,000 troops, and growing.

The US and its alliance of sixty nations against IS has been bombing targets inside IS for the past five months but this has borne little fruit, except the blood of innocent civilians.

IS are masters of adaptability and are learning how to evade air strikes and have even brought down one of the American-made warplanes belonging to the Jordanian air force. The pilot has no doubt proved a useful source of information for IS commanders who would like to know how the alliance is working, where its central command is, and God knows the rest.

The US Administration has performed a U-turn in Syria, and has begun to seriously woo former nemesis Iran in order to coordinate with Tehran and Damascus against IS.

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Meanwhile, major regional ally, Turkey, has refused to join the alliance unless the fight against IS is in parallel to bringing down Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

Erdogan also wants a buffer zone established along its border with Syria and is in no hurry to defeat IS because it adds to the pressure on its rivals in Syria and Iraq.


A sickness is spreading through the Middle East and its name is fragmentation.

Sectarianism, ethnic division and deep political differences, have produced unprecedented discord and violence. Now Western politicians are bringing out their scalpels to amputate their portions from the body of the Arab Nation.

The result is the partitioning we are already witnessing in its first stages in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Sudan. The situation reminds us of the final stages of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire under the blows of Western colonial powers one hundred years ago.

The Middle East is fragmenting
The Middle East is fragmenting

Despite the US-led bombardment of IS positions, the extremists continue to exercise a magnetic pull on young Arabs as well as Muslim youth from all over the world.

IS is moving in on the strategic Kurdish capital, Erbil, has a strong presence in Baghdad and has taken territory south of the Saudi border with Iraq.

Faced with its failure to drag Turkey into a the ground war against IS (which all analysts agree will be necessary to defeat this new enemy) the Obama administration has been forced to return to Iraq in a bid to revive an indigenous front against extremism.


The US is also racing to retrain the Iraqi Army and security services to fight IS. More than 5,000 US troops are on the ground now, training 5,000 Iraqi soldiers every six weeks to provide them with the minimum skills required to recover areas overrun by IS and it is highly likely that the number of American forces will grow and multiply through 2015.

The Obama administration was shocked by, first, the instant capitulation of the Iraqi Army soldiers when IS overran Mosul – they simply lay down their arms and fled.

Dividing Iraq along sectarian/ethnic lines was George.W.Bush's exit strategy
Dividing Iraq along sectarian/ethnic lines was George.W.Bush’s exit strategy

It was shocked again when it learned the extent of corruption in the Iraqi military, which it had trained: fictitious soldiers were receiving full pay to stay at home watching television; officers were bribed not to go anywhere dangerous and so on.

Hence it was decided to dissolve the Iraqi army for a second time, and replace them with new troops who will take charge of the fight against IS and the restoration of the city of Mosul, and Anbar province and other areas controlled by the State, which is indeed a humiliation to the Iraqi Government and the US occupation that fostered and installed it.

The chances of this new American initiative succeeding appear limited, for the simple reason that America is making the same error it has made before, in Iraq and elsewhere – i.e. the belief that all problems can be solved militarily when they are caused by political, social, religious and ethnic differences that might be better resolved through negotiation between the actual parties without any interference from abroad.

Not fit for purpose

America’s strategic template is not fit for purpose, since it sees attempts to regain control limited to one city or region at a time. IS on the other hand is capable of conducting numerous battles simultaneously and thousands of miles apart and in two different countries.

Far from encouraging reconciliation, the US military command appears intent on deepening sectarian divisions in Iraq, funding and training the Shiite militias at the same time as they are reviving the “Awakening” campaign among the Sunni tribes and drawing from them a sectarian Sunni force along the lines of the former “Sons of Iraq.”

It is entirely possible that these two armies will collide either before or after the completion of their mission to eliminate IS.

Western forces invaded Iraq on false intelligence and charges of possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in 2003.
Western forces invaded Iraq on false intelligence and charges of possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in 2003.

The palpable sense of urgency in training the Iraqi army confirms that a battle for Mosul is imminent, with huge human losses. The whole city will be destroyed, whoever the winner… and there will be no winner.

Eleven years after the US-led invasion of Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein, the country continues to founder in blood and chaos, and things look set to get even worse.

This is the ugly truth of America’s self-serving foreign policy which is based entirely on economic imperatives – mainly oil, gas and water – and its unquestioning support for Israel.

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