Politics being what they are in this country, it was predictable that Democrats and Republicans would point fingers at each other when Sunni insurgents began taking over territory in Shiite-controlled Iraq.
It was former President George Bush’s fault for starting the 10-year war that left nearly 4,500 Americans dead and raised new fears about the future stability of the Middle East. It was President Barack Obama’s fault for not insisting that a larger U.S. military force be left in Iraq after the war to discourage insurgents.
In reality, the man most responsible for Iraq’s situation is Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has long ignored the Obama administration’s pleas to treat the Sunni minority as fellow citizens. Instead, Maliki has excluded even moderate Sunnis from government while he has forged ties with Iran’s Shiite ayatollahs.
The deaths of all the American and Iraqi soldiers and civilians who lost their lives so the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein could be toppled could be in vain now because, rather than providing his nation with the truly democratic postwar leadership it needed, Maliki continued Saddam’s legacy of playing favorites.
The U.S.-equipped Iraqi army, derisively referred to as Maliki’s militia, has purged Sunnis from the officer corps and is despised in Sunni areas for its overzealous response to any unrest. Meanwhile, Maliki’s government ranks among the most corrupt in the world, according to Transparency International.
Those who criticize Obama for not leaving more troops in Iraq also seem to forget that the decision to remove them by the end of 2011 was not only what most war-weary Americans wanted at the time, it was also what Maliki desired so he could appear independent of the United States and bolster his own political position.
Now Maliki wants America to again come to his rescue, along with his Shiite brothers in Iran. And Iranian and U.S. officials have suggested they could work together. “All countries must unite in combating terrorism,” said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
But labeling the rebellion a terrorist campaign is misleading. Its participants do include the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, but also Sunni groups who say ISIS is not leading the fight.
The insurgents have taken Mosul and Tal Afar, and with Iraq’s army putting up little resistance, Baghdad appears vulnerable. Stopping the advance likely will require some U.S. military support other than troops. But the Obama administration is right to tie any such aid to Maliki’s ending his repression of Sunnis. Otherwise, any peace will not last.
– The Philadelphia Inquirer