Stuck in Iraq
The U.S. should exit but chaos might ensue
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.