With Iraq facing near collapse, a debate is reigniting in the United States over the value of having overthrown the former regime of Saddam Hussein.
Iraq faces a potential civil war after militants, namely from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), took over in short space of time swathes of territory in northern and central Iraq, allowing them to position themselves only a short distance from the capital Baghdad.
In a June 11, 2014, statement, the White House said the U.S. “will stand with Iraqi leaders across the political spectrum as they forge the national unity necessary to succeed in the fight against ISIS.”
“We will work with Congress to support the new Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund, which will provide flexibility and resources to help Iraq respond to emerging needs as the terrorist threat from ISIS continues to evolve,” the statement added.
It declared that “under the Strategic Framework Agreement, [the United States] will also continue to provide, and as required increase, assistance to the Government of Iraq to help build Iraq’s capacity to effectively and sustainably stop ISIS’ efforts to wreak havoc in Iraq and the region.”
The following day, during a joint news conference with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, President Barack Obama said that it was “in the United States’ interest to ensure jihadists don’t get a foothold in Iraq,” pointing out that his national security team is looking at all options.
Obama excluded the option of sending U.S. troops without strong approval from Iraq’s leaderships.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, for his part, said he anticipated “timely decisions” from Obama regarding the challenges in Iraq, pointing out that the United States had already provided initial support to the Baghdad government in terms of aerial surveillance.
Kerry also called on political leaders in Iraq to show unity despite ethnic differences in order to confront ISIS, which he said should serve as a wakeup call to them.
First: Factors determining the U.S. position
The U.S. excludes sending American ground troops to Iraq for many reasons, but mainly because of Obama’s doctrine not to dispatch U.S. forces unless the United States’ vital interests are directly threatened.
Any scenario involving American mobilization to deal with the crisis will only be possible after identifying the primary goals of the United States.
The U.S. goals
The U.S. administration’s commitment to the war on terrorism: In his speech at West Point Military Academy on May 28, Obama announced a new counter-terrorism strategy that focuses on targeting branches and affiliates of terrorist organizations and other extremist groups.
A key part of this effort is a proposal to establish a $5 billion Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund to help other countries in terms of training security forces and improving their combat capabilities to take on growing extremism.
These resources would enable U.S. forces to fight extremists in any place around the world.
The United States, Obama added, also needs to be more transparent about the rationale for the counter-terrorism measures and the way they are carried out, whether they are drone strikes or programs for training partners.
Political reforms in Iraq:
• The formation of an Iraqi spectrum that includes all political factions, despite disputes, as a condition for U.S. help and looking into naming a moderate and acceptable Shiite figure to replace current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
• Preventing the partition of Iraq and the outbreak of widespread civil war.
• Supporting Iraqi forces to help them confront acts of armed violence rather than responding to previous Iraqi calls for U.S. air strikes targeting militants, as one U.S. official put it.
According to a report quoting U.S. and Iraqi officials (4), Maliki last month secretly asked the Obama administration to look into the possibility of air strikes against militants as the latter began posing an increasing threat in the west of the country. The White House turned down the requests right up to June 12, 2014, because it was hesitant about opening a new chapter in the Iraqi saga which Obama said had ended with the 2011 U.S. troop withdrawal.
Second: Possible scenarios
Delivering modern weapons to Iraq:
• The U.S. approves a request from the Maliki government to purchase an unspecified number of "Boeing Apache AH-64" attack helicopters from the United States or at least hire six helicopters of this type and acquire more accurate missiles of the "Hellfire AGM-114" type.
• Offering security, investigative and logistical support to help Iraqi forces.
• The American approval could also include the previously rejected demand of launching air strikes, especially using drones, against extremists.
An agreement with Iran scenario:
Some have proposed a scenario in which the United States gives Tehran tacit approval to send troops to Iraq, especially after Iranian President Hassan Rowhani announced that his country was willing to combat violence and terrorism in the region, referring to ISIS militants.
This scenario raises fears of sectarian conflict in Iraq after Iran announced its intention to send forces to Iraq under the pretext of protecting “Shiite shrines” there.
According to Western reports, Iran has indeed dispatched forces to Iraq. Iraqi security sources have also said Iran has sent 500 Revolutionary Guards to fight alongside government troops against ISIS in Diyala.
It is now clear that that the departure of U.S. troops from Iraq was the beginning, and not the end, of the crisis facing the Iraqi army and state.
The future of Iraq depends on the ability of its divided army to overcome all the obstacles.
The question is: Is there value in training and equipping armies in weak states without tackling the underlying causes of this weakness?