|If there are ghosts, then the spirit of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is marching with his successor Sunni insurgents to recapture Baghdad. Zarqawi, a Jordanian, helped organize and direct the Sunni insurgency during the US occupation of Iraq, and his terrorist group, Al-Qaeda In Iraq, formed a basis for the eventual creation of ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, now fighting to create a "Caliphate" that will stretch from the border of Iran to Egypt.|
The United States is on the precipice of suffering a huge strategic defeat in the Middle East, which will change the shape of international politics for years to come. A mixed Sunni army of Iraqi insurgents and foreign fighters is driving on Baghdad. The Kurds in the north of Iraq, who were already controlling their own affairs in their autonomous zone, are taking advantage of the fleeing Iraqi national forces, to reach out and occupy Kirkuk, an oil-rich region, where the Kurds will make their new capital of reestablished Kurdistan.
Did the neocons envisage this scenario? Years after invading Iraq to liberate it from the brutal rule of Saddam Hussein (yes, WMD, whatever that was), the freed Shia of Iraq would have no choice in their endless war with the Sunnis but to call for help from Iran.
Reportedly, into the mix of forces that will now be fighting in Iraq’s civil war, are coming two battalions of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Their job: defend Baghdad, and other key Iraqi cities from being conquered by the Sunnis. Or let us put this in plain terms: Iran has just invaded Iraq.
Maybe “invaded” is not quite the word, since the hapless regime of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki likely begged for help from his Shia brothers in Iran. Al-Maliki has been begging for help from just about anybody, including from the United States, which has gone in the last 24 hours from saying no, no, no to Maliki’s repeated requests for US air strikes against the Sunni army, to publicly saying such attacks are “in the cards” President Obama might play—or probably not—whatever.
Al-Maliki obviously realized that waiting around for Barack Obama to decide to do anything useful was a pointless exercise, and he turned to the one place where he might expect some help—Iran. The question now is can the Iranian involvement stop the Sunni drive to Baghdad? Another question, if Iran saves Al-Maliki, what will the price be? Permanent operational bases for the Iranians in Iraq?
Is that going to be the preferable outcome for the West, compared to having Qaeda-affiliated Sunnis take Baghdad?
And what is the world prepared to do about any of this? To judge from recent events, for example in Ukraine, the answer would be “a big nothing”.
And it is likely that the Sunni and Iranian predators know this, as they converge to devour the remains of the failed American experiment in nation-building.
Republicans are already trying to blame Barack Obama for this outcome, but the seeds of the disaster were planted long ago, when George Bush invaded Iraq in 2003. It was this act, for example, which pushed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of the group which has morphed into ISIL (or ISIS), to finally pledge his loyalty to Osama bin Laden.
Al-Zarqawi’s organization, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, became the most feared anti-Shia and anti-American terrorist group in the Iraq War, and Al-Zarqawi was America’s enemy #1 in Iraq until his assassination by an American airstrike in 2006.
Now, Al-Zarqawi’s former network has joined forces with other Sunni insurgent groups and former Baathists (loyalists of Saddam Hussein) to create the ISIL army, whose mission is to conquer and set up an Islamic state encompassing Iraq and the Levant. The latter region means that ISIL’s ultimate goal is to establish a “Caliphate” that would stretch from the border of Iran to the Sinai—thus also including Syria, Israel, and Lebanon.
ISIL’s current war in Syria is distinguished from that of other Syrian rebel forces, chiefly by the fact that ISIL troops are actually able to hold their own against and defeat Syrian government forces and their Hezbollah allies. And ISIL’s roots and goals are the main reason the United States and the West had and has such great reluctance to back opposition forces against Syria’s much-hated Assad regime.
Americans, morally and in every other way exhausted by years of pointless, bloody, carnage in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, are going to resist being told by any president, but particularly by a president who campaigned on promises of ending America’s involvement in the wars, that it is time to go “save” Iraq once again.
But can the US and its allies, who are chiefly responsible for having made the mess that is modern, failing, Iraq, just sit and watch it on YouTube?
Many Americans are willing to give that a try.