The worsening situation in Iraq has seen Islamic militants, who have spilled across the border from Syria, taking city after city, laying bare the fractious state of the Iraqi government the Americans left behind them. In last nights Question Time the panel were asked what should be done? And the response seem to be, there’s nothing we can do!
Give weapons to the Iraqi government? Funnily enough most of the weapons and armoured vehicles the ISIS militants are using look remarkably similar to kit given to the Iraqi army, which they seem to have abandoned as they fled (no doubt ISIS will be selling them on e-bay soon, almost undamaged, only dropped once!). Indeed one could draw a direct parallel between the current Iraqi army and the South Vietnamese army after the Americans withdrew from the country.
Obama seems to favour drone strikes, but one has never won a war for towns and cities with air power alone. Direct intervention in the war with Western troops seems unlikely given the quagmire G. W. Bush and Blair got the world into the last time.
In short whats happening now is the direct consequences of the Bush/Blair plan of invading Iraq for all of the wrong reasons (oil!) with no clear thought as to what the end game was going to be and inadequate equipment and troop numbers for a long term occupation. Hence while the US was busy guarding the oil ministry, Iraq’s museum’s were looted and violent sectarian gangs took over the streets….and now whole cities!
The worst case scenarios aren’t pretty. The chances of Iraq breaking up, with the Kurds declaring independence, something almost certain to result in a three way war between them, whosever left in charge of Syria and Turkey. There are murmurs from Iran that they might send in troops to quell the uprising. And as noted, this current situation is directly linked to events across the border in Syria. An ethnic conflic within Iraq might now break out (in parallel to events in Syria). And if the Islamists prevail, we could see an Islamists state spanning right across the Middle East.
And while the supporters of Bush and Blair’s folly need to take a fair amount of the blame, so too those who argued against western intervention in Syria. There was a window opportunity at the start of the Syrian uprising where western intervention (and not necessarily direct military action) would have likely toppled the Assad regime, with the minimum of bloodshed. Instead, thanks to Western hesitation and Russian support what had started off as a conflict between more secularist pro-democracy forces and the Assad regime has morphed into a bloody rerun of the Yugoslav civil war, but this time with hard line Islamists now dominating the rebel forces. And those Islamists aren’t afraid to push into neighbouring countries and threaten to destabilise the whole region.
So this rise of ISIS is direct consequence of both the unjustified invasion of Iraq and a failure to take action in Syria. The chickens have indeed come home to roost as far as Western Middle Eastern policy. I seem to recall French President Chirac warning that a war in Iraq would stir up such a hornet’s nest of trouble that it would lead to the US facing off against “a thousand Bin Laden’s“. While he might have been engaging in hyperbole, he’s certainly been proved partially correct.