Losing Iraq: A strategic debacle

Is Iraq an effective ally in the struggle against regional terrorist groups? Counterterrorism cooperation with the U.S. against al-Qaeda in Iraq has fallen off dramatically, while AQI’s ability to conduct spectacular terrorist attacks within Iraq has been growing since the departure of American troops. Operations against Shiite militias have virtually ceased. Sectarian violence is rising in all of the traditional hotspots in and around Baghdad.

Does Iraq have a stable government that represents its people? Maliki’s government does not reflect the outcome of the 2010 parliamentary elections, in which his party did not win a plurality. Neither does it reflect the efforts of the U.S. administration to broker a “unity government” that would have been more inclusive — efforts that failed dramatically, as Michael Gordon describes in his forthcoming history of the period, The Endgame. Iraqi political accommodations have broken down since Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki used security forces to try to seize Sunni vice president Tariq al-Hashemi as the last American troops began their departure. Maliki had Hashemi tried in absentia after he fled the country, and an Iraqi court recently sentenced him to death by hanging.

Is Iraq a partner of the U.S. on key regional issues? Iraq refuses to enforce international economic sanctions on Iran, serving instead as an entrepôt for prohibited Iranian commerce. Baghdad has also refused to support the position of the U.S., Britain, France, the United Nations, and almost all of its Arab neighbors in opposing the Assad regime in Damascus. On the contrary, Iran is using Iraqi airspace and ground lines of communication to send military supplies and trainers to support Assad. Maliki has also vocally supported the Iranian-backed revolutionaries in Bahrain — a key American ally.

Far from being a success, then, American policy in Iraq has created an extraordinarily dangerous situation over which we have almost no influence.