From Bad to Worse In Iraq

The news from Iraq is grim. Yesterday, jihadists who call themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant captured Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. Today they took Saddam Hussein’s home town of Tikrit. Both cities have been the scene of mass beheadings. Iraqi soldiers–reportedly, as many as 30,000 of them–have abandoned their weapons and fled. A half million refugees are trying to make their way to the de facto nation of Kurdistan in vehicles and on foot. Currently, the ISIL forces are said to be within 75 miles of Baghdad.


ISIL’s leader is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. As you would expect, Zarqawi’s successor is almost unimaginably brutal. al-Baghdadi says that Osama bin Laden himself directed him to establish a radical Islamic state in Iraq. Reportedly, the U.S. had al-Baghdadi in custody four years ago, but let him go; however, I have not seen a detailed account of these events.

ISIL (also known as ISIS) now controls substantial parts of both Iraq and Syria. This map is from the Daily Mail. Click to enlarge:

territory iraq graphic blast in tikrit

Both the U.S. and Great Britain have expressed deep concern about the deteriorating situation in Iraq and have pledged to help the Iraqi government, but neither will entertain the thought of military action. Thus, in the near future it seems that things can only get worse.

Some in the U.S. are blaming Barack Obama for refusing to negotiate a continuing troop presence in Iraq when we abandoned that country in 2010. Marco Rubio said today:

As much as it may be popular, declaring wars over prematurely and playing down the threats posed by hardened terrorists has not made us safer. It has made us less secure. After significant sacrifices in American lives and financial support for the future of the Iraqi people, we have squandered the gains in that country. We need to ensure our assistance programs to Iraq are adequate to deal with the threats to their stability.

I can’t see, however, how we can “ensure” any such thing.

At present, it looks as though the many sacrifices that we and our allies made to overthrow Saddam Hussein and establish a semblance of a modern democracy in Iraq will be in vain. It is tempting, and maybe correct, to blame the Obama administration for Iraq’s descent into chaos. But after the surge, Iraq had a good opportunity to build a functioning society, a growing economy, and a legitimate, self-governing country. American troops could not forever be the guarantor of relative peace in Iraq.

In my view, the Iraq war was fought, in part, to answer a critical series of questions. The first was, are Arabs capable of self-government? A further question was, will helping Arab countries to build modern, normal, self-governing societies be enough to destroy the appeal of radical Islam for young Arabs? The effort, in my opinion, had to be made, and Iraq was the logical, if not the only, place to begin. At this point, however, it is hard to be optimistic about the results of that effort. Arab culture is deeply dysfunctional. Expansionist, homicidal Islam is the most potent ideology in the region. Viewing events in Egypt, in Syria and now in Iraq, it is hard to optimistic about the future of any part of the Arab world.


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