June 10, 2014

Iraq's second largest city falls to Islamists - fault of the United States?


As you can see from the image above, taken from the White House website, President Barack Obama committed in his 2009 inauguration speech to end the war in Iraq responsibly - his exact words, "We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people."

During the campaign, he also committed to leaving a residual force of American troops in the country to continue training Iraqi military and security forces, and to provide a rapid response capability should the Iraqi forces be faced with a situation beyond their capabilities.

When Mr. Obama assumed office, the United States and Iraq were operating under a Status of Forces Agreement signed during the Bush Administration that called for the removal of American forces by the end of 2011, unless the security situation warranted the extension of an American presence.

During the summer months of 2011, the Obama Administration engaged in just such extension negotiations with the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi'a Muslim (and many would say, Iranian puppet). In the middle of negotiations, the American side abruptly terminated the talks and walked out.

In my opinion, President Obama had no intention of keeping American forces in Iraq beyond the end of 2011 and was merely going through the motions. He used the back and forth nature of the negotiations as an excuse to walk away from the table and pull out American troops by year's end. By December 2011, the Iraqis were on their own.

Without the presence of American combat power in the country, it was not long before the old animosities that had been simmering beneath the surface since the American surge in 2007 had tamped down the sectarian violence, re-ignited and violence began to reappear. Sunnis and Shi'a again drew battle lines - the Sunnis gaining support from al-Qa'idah affiliated and other Islamist groups, and the Shi'a from the Iranians - the self appointed guardians of Shi'a worldwide.

I admit that I was surprised at the level of activity by the Islamist groups, particularly the group formerly known as al-Qa'idah in Iraq (AQI), which renamed itself the Islamic State of Iraq. After a series of successful operations in Iraq, it sent fighters to participate in the Syrian civil war in cooperation with other Islamist groups, particularly jabhat al-nusrah (the Victory Front). The Jabhat al-Nusrah remains a group subordinate to al-Qa'idah, while ISIS is an independent Islamist organization.

As the organization grew in strength in Syria, it renamed the parent organization the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).* They believe (with some justification) that the border between Iraq and Syria is an artificial creation of mandatory powers Great Britain and France following World War One, and should not exist. A new Islamic state should replace both colonial legacy nations.

While ISIS continues to fight the Syrian regime and at times the secular Free Syrian Army (also opposed to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Asad), it also continues to mount attacks on Iraqi government facilities and troops in both the Sunni Arab and Kurdish areas. They have already taken the city of Fallujah, and the Iraq army has not been able to recapture it. It's area of focus is the area shaded in green on the map below.

Debkafile Map (debka.com)

These operations culminated on June 10, 2014 with the capture of Iraq's second largest city, Mosul (al-Mawsil). The Iraqi army units assigned to Mosul simply dropped their weapons, abandoned hundreds of American-made (and funded) vehicles and departed the city, leaving it defenseless to the attacking Islamists. So much for security being in the hands of the Iraqis, as described by the President in 2011.

The President repeatedly claims to have "ended the war in Iraq." Mr. Obama, you did not end the war. You merely ended our involvement in it - the war has never stopped, and as we see today, is escalating. Thanks to your ill-advised decision to cut and run rather than hammer out an agreement with the Iraqi government that would have provided an American backstop to the Iraqi military, we are now faced with the impending dismemberment of a country that we fought to make into an fledgling democracy. Iraq may become the next major haven for Islamists worldwide.

If ISIS is successful in expanding its control of territory in Syria, it will soon become a national security threat to the United States - too large of a threat to ignore. At some point, we are going to have to address this threat, or it will address us. It reminds of the old car repair commercial, "Pay me now or pay me more later." Later is fast approaching, Mr. President.

By the way, Mr. Obama is doing the same thing in Afghanistan that he did in Iraq. He has told the Taliban when we are leaving. I won't even address his release of the Taliban's top five leaders. That too will come back to haunt the United States.

* The name in Arabic is actually al-dawlat al-islamiyah fil-'iraq wal-sham. Al-Sham can be translated as either Damascus, Syria or the Levant, depending on context. I prefer to use "Syria."