DUMPING MALIKI AND STRIKING AT ISIS
By Anthony H. Cordesman
28 Jul 14. It is time that the United States stopped waiting for good options that could somehow quickly solve its problems in the Middle East and accept the reality that the United States faces an unstable mess in the entire Middle East/North Africa region that is likely to take at least a decade to play out before there is any real stability. There are no “good,” quick, or simple options that can avoid this reality, or avoid the fact the United States must choose between unpleasant alternatives in many cases.
The United States cannot continue to wait, hope that negotiations and half-hearted use of “soft power” can somehow substitute for more tangible action, and “lead from behind” to the point it does not really lead at all. It needs to become far more active in dealing with issues like Iraq and the growth of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), and not let critical turning points pass while it waits for Godot.
Such a turning point has come in Iraq. The United States and all of its allies face a serious threat from Islamic extremists, and particularly from the rise of ISIS to the point where it threatens to create a Jihadist protostate in Eastern Syrian and Western Iraq.
The Obama Administration has not announced the results of the options study for action in Iraq that it completed several weeks ago. It is all too clear, however, that any options that involve creating more effective Iraqi security forces and the focused use of U.S. air and missile power will take weeks or months to be effective. It is also clear that they can only be effective if the United States does not help worsen a civil war between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shi’ites that has been triggered by the actions of Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
Maliki as a Threat to Iraq, Its Neighbors, and U.S. Interests
To put it bluntly, Maliki is as much of a threat to Iraqi unity, stability in the Gulf, and U.S. strategic interests as is ISIS. Ever since the power struggles that began as a result of indecisive outcome of Iraq’s March 2010 election, Maliki has driven the country toward civil war. He has alienated Iraq’s Kurds and steadily become more authoritarian and ruthless in dealing with its Arab Sunnis.
He has become steadily more authoritarian and crippled the development of Iraq’s security forces in his effort to make them personally loyal and use them against Sunni and other peaceful opposition. He forced his Sunni vice president to flee Iraq and pushed Iraq’s courts to pass at least three death sentences on him. He drove out other senior Sunni figures and bribed others to support him – creating a structure of corruption, bribery, and fear that made something of joke out Iraq’s elections in May 2014 – when Maliki ran for a third term after having promised not to do so. Within the last few days, he may have used Iraq’s security forces to temporarily arrest Riyadh al-Adhadh, the leader of the Baghdad Provincial Council.
His actions drove Iraq steadily back towards civil war – a reality reflected all too clearly in UN reporting on the steady rise of casualties since mid-2011 and in annual U.S., British, UN, and NGO reporting on the human rights abuses by Iraq’s security forces. This history – along with the key UN, U.S., World Bank, and NGO data on Maliki’s failures and crowing authoritarianism and alienation of Iraq Sunnis and other element of the its population is laid out in detail in
Iraq in Crisis (http://csis.org/files/publication/140513_Cordesman_IraqInCrisis_Web.pd)
ISIS did not take Ramadi and Fallujah, and then seize Mosul and much of Western Iraq because of its own strength. A force of some 10,000 men with only some 3,000 core fighters did not shatter more than four Iraqi divisions and “win” because of its strength – particularly when most Iraqi Sunnis and the three other major armed Sunni factions in Iraq does not support its religious and cultural extr