Stuck in Iraq

The U.S. should exit but chaos might en­sue

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - National -

Iraq, an­other of the sink­holes in which the United States re­mains in­volved, is fac­ing two crises — a quest for sub­stan­tial re­con­struc­tion money and dicey na­tional elec­tions.

Amer­ica has been in­volved in Iraq start­ing in 1990 with the first Gulf War, prompted by Iraq’s in­va­sion of Kuwait, and then again in 2003, when Amer­ica, this time more or less with­out al­lies, in­vaded Iraq a se­cond time, re­main­ing un­til now. The fo­cus of U.S. mil­i­tary at­ten­tion has shifted from an Iraq led by Pres­i­dent Sad­dam Hus­sein, who was ex­e­cuted in 2006, to Iraqi op­po­si­tion to the Amer­i­can oc­cu­pa­tion, to most re­cently, the Is­lamic State group pres­ence there. That was, in prin­ci­ple, ended when the IS was driven out of Mo­sul last year.

Iraq now faces two se­ri­ous hur­dles to fu­ture progress. The first, to be ad­dressed in a donors’ con­fer­ence in Kuwait, is some $100 bil­lion that it seeks for re­con­struc­tion af­ter the var­i­ous wars. The se­cond is na­tional elec­tions, to be held May 12.

Pledges at the Kuwait con­fer­ence are prob­lem­atic. The United States is re­port­edly not plan­ning to in­crease the aid it al­ready pro­vides Iraq. Pre­vi­ous big donors, the Sunni Is­lam states of Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates, are tak­ing the po­si­tion that they have other fish to fry. Their real prob­lem with Iraq is that, through Iraq’s ma­jor­ity Shi­ite Is­lamic faith, it has fallen too much un­der the sway of Shi­ite Iran. There is also an ac­tive Ira­nian mil­i­tary pres­ence in Iraq, left over from the cam­paign to take Mo­sul back from the IS.

The May elec­tions are an­other ques­tion al­to­gether. Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi sought to stitch to­gether a po­lit­i­cal “Vic­tory Al­liance,” based on his Pop­u­lar Mo­bi­liza­tion Forces. How­ever, there quickly spun off an­other Shi­ite­based, Iran-sup­ported group, the “Con­quest” list, for­merly part of the PMF that Mr. al-Abadi had been work­ing through. The po­lit­i­cal pic­ture is fur­ther com­pli­cated by the ap­pear­ance of a new “Wis­dom Al­liance,” led by Shi­ite cler­gy­man Am­mar al-Hakim. All in all, the cam­paign prom­ises to be a real jum­ble, with Mr. Abadi’s ul­ti­mate fate un­cer­tain.

Then there are the se­ces­sion­ist ten­den­cies of Iraq’s Kurds. They are firmly in­stalled in the north of the coun­try, armed and sup­ported by the United States, Sunni by faith, seek­ing to es­tab­lish Kur­dish con­trol more firmly also in north­ern Syria. They are op­posed by the forces of Turkey, a U.S. NATO ally.

In many ways it would make sense for the United States to with­draw from Iraq at this point, not­ing that Amer­i­cans have done as much as they can to shape the present and fu­ture of the coun­try. Prob­a­bly the prin­ci­pal bar­rier to that oth­er­wise wise ac­tion is that the place would prob­a­bly fall deeper into chaos at that point, ab­sent re­con­struc­tion money and with elec­tions im­mi­nent, with blame po­ten­tially fall­ing on the United States, cre­at­ing a “Who lost Iraq?” ques­tion.

The is­sue for Amer­i­cans re­mains whether our gov­ern­ment plans for us to stay there for­ever, with the cor­re­spond­ing con­tin­u­ing costs in­volved. The peace and sta­bil­ity that the U.S. seeks in Iraq do not ap­pear to be on a nearby hori­zon.

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