Cascading Chaos in Iraq | Charles Duelfer

Cascading Chaos in Iraq

Watching the disintegration of Iraq is a horror. Many predicted this. There were Iraqis reaching out to the US and others pointing out that there were large numbers of Iraqis who, if continually cut off from a role in the government, would ignite in fury against the government. That is happening.

While the western press is calling the attacks the work of ISIS, they are not the real force. The most effective fighters (according to Iraqis with long experience both under Saddam and post-Saddam), are former members of the former Army from Saddam days. Under Saddam the Iraqi army numbered in the hundreds of thousands. They all have families so if you multiply that number times the number of immediate family members, you get a large number of people who have been denied the positions and opportunity to participate in Iraq. They were dissolved in 2004. But they remained a potent and dissatisfied slice of the Iraqi population. While the US was present they sustained a hope of getting an equitable role in the new Iraq. However, the US is gone and Prime Minister Maliki has given them no stake in the success of the Iraqi government. The recent election was a punctuation mark, ending their hope.

Now there really may be a conflagration between Shia and Sunni with international consequences.   Next we may see Iran step in. The Kurds, wisely armed and protected will face the problem of massive refugees from the south. Turkey may get involved.   And or course Jordan, inundated with refugees from the previous Iraq war and now the Syrian conflict, may get yet another wave of refugees.

The underlying dynamic was knowable, indeed was known, but no one felt obligated to address it.

Conflict will break out in Baghdad. Maliki’s army will not fight for Iraq. Shia will fight for Shia and the Shia militias will be Maliki’s forces. The US, by its continued support of Maliki is doomed to be seen as an opponent now by the secular Sunnis. Ayatollah Sistani will likely be forced to rally Shia to arms. Will the Saudis and other Gulf States stand by while Iran supports the Shia?

The US has withdrawn to a corner and is seen as a trivial force. We can stop supplying spare parts to the military equipment we have provided, but what else?

Many Iraqis have said, the stability of Iraq under Saddam was preferable to insecurity that followed. There were moments in the last five years when a leader other than Maliki could have turned this around. Now, Iraq will likely fight itself to some draw and division of territory. Who will broker the peace? Not the US. Turkey? Iran? The UN?



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