As a bumper sticker, John Kerry’s quote works well. As an argument for the Kurds to stick with Nouri al-Maliki, it’s … not exactly a winner, for the reasons NBC’s anchor states. Masoud Barzani argued yesterday that they’ve given Maliki and Baghdad their support for ten years, and what have they got from it? They’ve been locked out of Kirkuk and its oil resources and marginalized politically, and now Maliki has all but blown up “the united Iraq” in favor of cronyism for his fellow Shi’ites. United Iraq’s army has fallen apart, and the Kurds are defending their territory all by themselves, and even the Turks have finally realized that it makes more sense to have a strong Kurdistan than a collapsed Iraq on their border.
Yes, a united Iraq would be better, but it’s looking more like a pipe dream to the Kurds, thanks to Maliki’s incompetence and the American indifference that allowed it to flourish:
The State Department knows that a Kurdish declaration of independence will be the death knell for American influence in Baghdad, too:
Kerry flew to the Kurdish region after a day in Baghdad on an emergency trip through the Middle East to rescue Iraq after a lightning advance by Sunni fighters led by an al Qaeda offshoot, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. U.S. officials believe that persuading the Kurds to stick with the political process in Baghdad is vital to keeping Iraq from splitting apart.
“If they decide to withdraw from the Baghdad political process it will accelerate a lot of the negative trends,” said a senior State Department official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
If the Kurds set up their own shop, then there will be no hope of convincing Sunni leaders to return to the fold. At that point, Maliki will simply align completely with Iran rather than deal with the US at all. The US will have to shift its focus to Kurdistan, Saudia Arabia, and Jordan to contain the conflagration to Syria and Iraq. There will be no effective way to fight ISIS; neither Jordan nor Saudi Arabia will fight them, and we’re not going to ally with Tehran and Bashar al-Assad against them, either.
ISIS continues to bear down on Baghdad, and the worry now is that they have infiltrated the capital well enough to conduct a suicide-bombing campaign to destroy infrastructure and morale ahead of a frontal assault:
With ISIS forces nearing Baghdad’s city limits, U.S. officials don’t believe the relatively small, ill-equipped army of Islamic militants will be able to take the city by a frontal assault. Instead, they fear that ISIS will terrorize Baghdad by launching a wave of suicide bombings and possibly cutting off water and electricity to the city of 7.5 million.
The strategy, according to the officials, appears aimed at demoralizing residents of the city and inciting a new wave of sectarian violence that could further undermine the ruling Shia-led Iraqi government.
Asked if the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a Sunni terrorist group, has a significant cadre of suicide bombers willing to carry out such attacks, a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said that recruitment is not a problem for the group.
“Dozens of bombers? Oh yeah, maybe more,” said the official, who spoke with NBC News on condition of anonymity. “It could be less, but (it’s) a significant number.”
Wherever possible, ISIS leaders will likely attempt to use suicide bombers drawn from the foreign fighters who have flocked to Iraq in recent months to aid their cause, said U.S. officials, explaining that their use gives ISIS the ability to portray itself as an international Islamic fighting force.
One way or another, ISIS is coming. On the plus side, Baghdad’s security forces are all too familiar with suicide bombings and won’t be easily demoralized by them. However, the collapse of the army in Nineveh and Anbar shows that morale is already in crisis, so it won’t take much more of a push from ISIS to send it to its nadir inside Baghdad.