Scheduled U.S. exit may doom Iraq

July 10, 2011


Does anyone remember Iraq?

As the United States moves toward withdrawing its last 46,000 troops from that country by the end of 2011, Iraq has become a black hole. It is the place Americans want to forget and the media hardly cover.

No wonder. Although violence is way down since the mid-2000s, there’s been a resurgence of car bombs and sectarian killings. The Iraqi government barely functions, and the country ranks nearly at the bottom of the Transparency International corruption index (175th out of 178, just above Afghanistan).

Who wants to remember a war fought for reasons proven wrong, a war for which the Bush administration quit Afghanistan and turned victory there into near-defeat? Who wants to recall a war that cost the lives of nearly 5,000 U.S. troops and more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians — while boosting Iran’s influence in the region and slashing ours?

And yet, that expanding Iranian influence should grab our attention. Unchecked, it will reverse Iraq’s slim democratic gains and restoke Iraq’s sectarian violence, while threatening our broader interests in the region. Is this how we want our misguided Iraq venture to end?

As the United States leaves, Tehran is expanding its sway over Baghdad, beyond the normal influence of a neighbor that shares a long border.

Iran is sending a clear message to Washington that it intends to exert primacy in Baghdad. June was the bloodiest month for the U.S. military since 2008, and U.S. officials blame the 15 troop deaths on Shiite insurgents who obtained deadly weapons from Iranian sources.

Moreover, Tehran appears to have Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in a headlock. Once a politician who showed independence from Tehran, the unpopular Maliki has become dependent on an Iranian-backed Shiite group led by the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who spends most of his time in the Iranian city of Qom.

Even more disturbing is the decision by Maliki and his Dawa Party to submit to the religious authority of Grand Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahroudi, a hard-line Iranian cleric, rather than to Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Shahroudi endorses the Iranian system of rule by a supreme cleric, while Sistani draws a line between mosque and state.

Maliki has facilitated the flow of huge numbers of Iranian pilgrims (no doubt including many Iranian intelligence agents) to the holy Iraqi cities of Najaf and Karbala, where Iran is building numerous hotels and restaurants.

This week, Iranian First Vice President Mohammed Reza Rahimi is visiting Baghdad, and has signed six agreements to boost economic, health, technological, and cultural ties with Iraqis. He is accompanied by scores of eager Iranian businessmen.

Iraq already depends on Iran for about 10 percent of desperately needed electric power (U.S. inability to help Iraq produce enough electricity, despite many aid projects, has bewildered Iraqis). More Iranian power projects are on tap.

Most Iraqis don’t want to fall into Iran’s orbit. Iraq’s majority Shiite Muslims share Iran’s faith, but they are Arabs, not Persians. Moreover, discontent with Maliki has grown; he has veered toward one-man rule (encouraged by Iran?) and failed to carry out his promises to minority Sunnis.

Iraqis fear they could once again become the proxy battleground between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, with each side fueling its chosen sectarian militias.

Is there anything the United States can, or should, do?

The administration (and key Republicans) would like to keep 8,500 to 10,000 troops in Iraq at least during 2012 to continue training Iraqi forces (and send the message that the country isn’t being abandoned to Iran’s ayatollahs).

Many Sunni and Kurdish leaders, along with some Shiites, want a continued U.S. presence to keep Iran at bay (U.S. troops have also kept tensions down between Iraqi Sunnis and Kurds in northern Iraq).

Of course, Americans are even more weary of this war than of the Afghan conflict. And any extension of U.S. troops would require a request from Maliki, a Shiite, which he looks unlikely to make.

Yet, in the year of the Arab Spring, I’m not so certain Maliki can last, despite Iran. (His forces have brutally repressed Iraqi youth protesting corruption.) If other Iraqi forces request us to remain, or Maliki changes his mind, I think the administration should acquiesce.

Americans forget, or never knew, what terrible suffering this war inflicted on Iraqis — in a war that also badly wounded us. To have paid these costs just to hand Iraq over to Iran’s clerics would not just threaten our security. It would be obscene. We must remember Iraq’s history as we decide what to do next.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer.


number3of5 6 years, 6 months ago

I like that idea. Let them destroy each other. Just keep it under control. yeah right!

Jimo 6 years, 6 months ago

Gee, where are all the people who thought this aggressive war of choice was such a great idea?

Republicans, having run up hundreds of billions in debts, are nowhere to be found now that it's time to pay the bills.

Billions in destroyed equipment. Billions in destroyed lives. Billions in rehabilitation. Billions in interest on the borrowed debt. And the Elephant looks around in fake surprise and exclaims: 'Who, me?'

One word: Surtax.

Abdu Omar 6 years, 6 months ago

Well, in my opinion, the rich support the repugs so let the rich pay for a war their president of choice started for no reason. Raise taxes and lets get out of this mess. I am tired of the gridlock and I am tired of a do nothing congress. We are the people. Let them represent us. I think the way out of this is to raise taxes on the extremly rich and cut some programs that enrich them. We can all be happy that was done in the end.

gkerr 6 years, 6 months ago

Wounded_Soldier, Actually a majority of the Filthy Rich support Democrats. From Wall Street, Madison Avenue, The Hamptons, Martha's Vinyard, Hollywood, Silicone Valley, San Francisco, Manhattan, Boston, etc., even Omaha tend to support Democrats. Data shows the wealthiest counties in America are Blue ones.

Read the book Reckless Endangerment in which New York Times writers point out the filthy political insiders who engineered the mortgage bubble that triggered the current debt crisis around the world. Now it is true debt has been building in all developed countries for many many decades as a result of war and deficit spending in a Keynesian binge positing the hope that government spending generates enough economic activity in the private sector to create the wealth needed to fund more government spending and government growth. A fools errand doomed to failure some call a simple Ponzi Scheme. Politicians have thrived on this ruse and many if not most of them in this case were Democrats. Republicans have been guilty as well and because they should know better and claim to know better they are doubly guilty of the mess we are in. Just don't believe for one second that democrats don't court the rich and become rich on the backs of the American tax payer, cause they do and have from the beginning. Gkerr

notanota 6 years, 6 months ago

We shouldn't have been there to begin with. You cannot win someone else's civil war. When will we learn that lesson?

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 6 months ago

"You cannot win someone else's civil war."

In a technical way, it is possible to do so, and it's been done many times, mostly in antiquity.

However, what is required to do it is not considered acceptable in today's world. What would be need to be done would be the complete destruction of the infrastructure, housing, and population of a country. After there were very few survivors left, their civil war would be over.

This has happened countless times in history, however mostly it has been done in antiquity.

The westward expansion of the USA is an exception in that it was not that long ago. If the Native Americans would not have been fighting so much among themselves, the Europeans would never have been able to take over the North American continent and virtually exterminate the Native population.

But at the rate the Middle East is decending into chaos, it's possible that that level of thinking will be repeated there.

It's happened in Africa not that long ago, in Darfur. a clip: There are various estimates on the number of human casualties, ranging from under twenty thousand to several hundred thousand dead, from either direct combat or starvation and disease inflicted by the conflict. There have also been mass displacements and coercive migrations, forcing millions into refugee camps or over the border and creating a large humanitarian crisis.

But, for some reason, most of the citizens of the USA were not very concerned about it, it's my opinion that's because it didn't affect our oil supply very much.

And neither were the Arabs, because there are no Jews in Sudan.

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