Be­tween IS & Iran’s mili­tias, US gives up on State of Iraq

Pakistan Observer - - INTERNATIONAL - [ Joyce Karam is the Wash­ing­ton Bureau Chief for Al- Hayat News­pa­per, an In­ter­na­tional Ara­bic Daily based in Lon­don. She has cov­ered Amer­i­can pol­i­tics ex­ten­sively since 2004 with fo­cus on U. S. pol­icy to­wards the Mid­dle East. Prior to that, she worked as

JOYCE KARAM HEN US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama prom ised in 2011 that Amer­i­can forces are “leav­ing be­hind a sov­er­eign, sta­ble and self- re­liant Iraq” he couldn’t be more far off from the re­al­ity that emerged to­day. Five years into the with­drawal, Iraq’s sovereignty, sta­bil­ity, and self- re­liance are a dis­tant mem­ory, as ter­ror­ist groups and mili­tias dic­tate the rules of the game and the map of the bat­tles from Bagh­dad to Kark­ouk. The scene from the Iraqi city of Fallujah un­der­go­ing now its third “lib­er­a­tion” bat­tle from ISIS, says it all. Along with the Iraqi forces, it is Ira­nian funded and or­ga­nized para­mil­i­tary groups with di­rect help and pres­ence of Tehran’s “shadow com­man­der” Qassem Suleimani lead­ing the fight for Fallujah, and un­der air cover from the US and coali­tion forces. US picks its poi­son Wash­ing­ton’s air cover to US des­ig­nated ter­ror­ist Qassem Suleimani, as he takes on an­other des­ig­nated ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion IS, per­fectly sums up the Amer­i­can dilemma and tragedy in Iraq. The US pri­or­ity in the coun­try it in­vaded and oc­cu­pied in 2003 is solely de­fined to­day by fight­ing ISIS while over­look­ing the tac­tics and the means to do so.

Two years af­ter IS ran­sacked Mo­sul from the Iraqi forces in June of 2014, Wash­ing­ton ap­pears

Wto have lost faith in the Iraqi mil­i­tary and in the po­lit­i­cal prow­ess of the govern­ment in Bagh­dad to rule over the coun­try. Wash­ing­ton’s air cover to US des­ig­nated ter­ror­ist Qassem Suleimani, as he takes on an­other des­ig­nated ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion IS, per­fectly sums up the Amer­i­can dilemma and tragedy in Iraq.

In­stead, the US along with the re­gional and coali­tion coun­tries in­volved in Iraq are com­ing to terms with Iran and not Bagh­dad call­ing the shots, and that their paramil­i­taries are the lesser of two evils in con­duct­ing pol­icy in the old Me­sopotamia.

What­ever plans the US had af­ter 2014 to build a “Na­tional Guard” force of mainly lo­cal tribal forces to fight IS in the Sunni ar­eas it con­trols, they have crum­bled in the face of Ira­nian op­po­si­tion and its veto power in Iraqi pol­i­tics. The Ira­nian strat­egy has had the last word, as Tehran formed, trained and equipped an al­most 100,000 Shia- ma­jor­ity mili­tia known as “the pop­u­lar mo­bi­liza­tion forces” to fight IS in Iraq’s Sunni heart­land.

Iraq’s Prime Min­is­ter Haider Abadi is left with no choice but to fol­low Iran’s lead as his govern­ment coali­tion and Bagh­dad’s own se­cu­rity de­pends on ac­com­mo­dat­ing Tehran’s men and se­cur­ing the cap­i­tal. Iran’s para­mil­i­tary group has so far been crit­i­cal in dic­tat­ing the roadmap for the fight in Tikrit, Ra­madi and now Fallujah, scor­ing mil­i­tary vic­to­ries while at the same time ex­ac­er­bat­ing sec­tar­ian di­vi­sions with re­ports of loot­ing, dis­place­ment of lo­cals fol­lowed the takeover from IS. Short­sighted strat­egy

Out­sourc­ing the fight against IS to Ira­nian funded and trained mili­tias is noth­ing short of a recipe for dis­as­ter in Iraq. It shows that the US is once again pri­or­i­tiz­ing the po­lit­i­cal time­line to de­feat IS in as many cities as pos­si­ble be­fore Obama leaves of­fice in Jan­uary, while ignoring the dire con­se­quences these tac­tics would leave Iraq with in the medium and long term. In­vest­ing in Iraq’s sovereignty and build­ing an in­clu­sive power struc­ture has taken the back seat to the im­me­di­ate goal of fight­ing IS. For the US the les­son of the fall of Mo­sul in 2014 is that it can’t rely on the Iraqi mil­i­tary that fled the city and gave in to IS. While this was a valid con­clu­sion from the fall of Iraq’s sec­ond largest city, it can­not set the pace for the cur­rent strat­egy. Re­ly­ing on Ira­nian mili­tias to fight ISIS is coun­ter­pro­duc­tive and feeds the sec­tar­ian nar­ra­tive that led to the rise of the no­to­ri­ous group in the first place. Ara­bic hash­tags such as “Fallujah stands up to Iran” or “Fallujah un­der ag­gres­sion” show more re­sent­ment at Ira­nian prox­ies en­ter­ing Fallujah than re­ject­ing IS. It is the Sunni dis­en­fran­chise­ment in post- Sad­dam Iraq that prompted the rise of ISIS, and it is the gift that keeps on giving for the ter­ror­ist group.

Mil­i­tar­ily, and un­less a po­lit­i­cal roadmap that grants the Sun­nis and other mi­nori­ties a fair share in the Iraqi power struc­ture, IS can lose ground but will not be de­feated. The group was de­clared dead af­ter the US with­drawal in 2011 and man­aged to resur­face and build on Bagh­dad’s po­lit­i­cal fail­ures among the Sunni tribes.

By over­look­ing Iran’s mil­i­tary ex­pan­sion in Iraq and let­ting go of its own plans to train and equip a Na­tional Guard force, the US is ef­fec­tively giving up on the State of Iraq in the long term. A weak and frac­tured cen­tral govern­ment in Bagh­dad that is de­pen­dent on Iran is an ac­cept­able out­come for Wash­ing­ton. This is a recipe for fail­ure given that Iran’s proxy mili­tias from Le­banon to Syria to Iraq are there to stay and grow at the ex­pense of the cen­tral state. Wash­ing­ton has ad­justed to this sta­tus quo as long as it serves the near­sighted short term goal of fight­ing IS. In 2003, the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion in­vaded Iraq promis­ing a “path to free­dom and democ­racy.” To­day, Iraq’s path is to paramil­i­taries and sec­tar­ian war­fare, as the US min­i­mizes its foot­print and ac­cepts short­sighted strate­gies in the name of coun­tert­er­ror­ism and de­feat­ing IS.

— Courtesy: AA

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