In a previous post, I outlined the tortured history of Iraq in which I noted Iraq is an artificial nation with deep divisions that was held together Saddam Hussein’s brutality. Removing Hussein lifted the lid off these divisions.
The minority Shiites, oppressed under Hussein’s Sunni dominated government, became the new oppressors, effectively shutting out the Sunnis from power. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) used Sunni resentment to recruit Sunni tribes against the Iraqi government; this together with their religious fanaticism allowed them to roll back the Iraqi Army.
The Iraqi Army was trained and equipped by the Unites States to the tune of $25 billion. Yet ISIS fighters, with a mere 1500 fighters, ran off three to four U.S. trained divisions from Mosul last year. The fleeing Iraqi soldiers surrendered hundreds of Humvees, Stryker armored vehicles, and weapons. In the past month, the capital Anbar province, Ramadi, was captured by ISIS with similar results. What happened?
The argument that the United States should have left troops in Iraq, as if we were the sole deciders of this is, mistaken. Iraq, as a sovereign nation, had every right to weigh in on this. But with U.S. demands that Americans be immune from Iraq law, they balked, as we would do in their place.
But they were not inclined to do so even if we relented. The Shiite government and their patrons in Iran wanted us out. The Shiites of both Iraq and Iran now have control of the Iraqi government. There is some evidence that Iranian forces are in Iraq fighting ISIS. The Iraqi government’s credibility with the Sunni tribes and with the Kurds does not exist.
The credibility gap isn’t the only obstacle to the Iraqi army’s ineffectiveness against ISIS. Widespread corruption is rampant at the highest levels of the army. Graft has led to the troops receiving poor weapons, little ammunition and little pay. So-called “ghost” soldiers are on the rolls but stay home after paying kickbacks to their commanders.
Soldiers who are simply fighting for a paycheck are unlikely to win over ISIS soldiers who are fighting for Allah. More U.S. soldiers and more money for the Iraqi army is unlikely to turn the tide in the face of widespread corruption and Shiite bias. Average Sunnis don’t like ISIS, but they dislike Shiite domination even more. The short term solution is to pry the Sunni tribes away from ISIS by giving the tribes arms and support directly to fight the fanatics. Arab ground support may follow.
This would mean bypassing both the Iraqi government and army, undermining their legitimacy further. But that may be the price of stability. In the long term, a more inclusive Iraq government may prove feasible.
But it is unlikely. The divisions are too deep. We may be looking at a situation where only the partition of Iraq will bring peace. Allow the Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites to go their own way, declare Iraq dead, and get out. Let’s stop digging a deeper hole.