Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Iraq last week underlined the folly of continued U.S. involvement there, 13 years after America’s second invasion.
The United States still has 4,000 troops in Iraq, nearly five years after President George W. Bush agreed with the then-Iraqi government that all U.S. troops would be withdrawn by the end of 2011. President Barack Obama pledged to end the war in Iraq as part of his 2008 election campaign, a promise he has not fulfilled, bending to pressure from the Pentagon and Washington’s other advocates of a continued U.S. military presence.
In principle, U.S. troops are in Iraq in the context of advising and supplying Iraqi armed forces, not in a combat role. However, it emerged last month that U.S. Marines maintain an independent fire base in northern Iraq and are expected to play a critical role in carrying out the plan of Iraqi forces to free Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, from Islamic State control. The IS has held Mosul since June 2014.
The Iraqi government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has its own problems, considered largely to be a result of the actions of its Shiite Muslim leadership in monopolizing authority in Baghdad, excluding the 35-percent Sunni Muslims who ruled the country from 1932 to the U.S. invasion in 2003. That piece of unwise religious discrimination is bad enough in itself, but it is joined by serious pushing and shoving among the Shiites themselves.
Muqtada al-Sadr, a figure from the period of U.S. occupation who caused a lot of trouble back then, has now invaded the fortified Green Zone, which includes the American Embassy as well as significant parts of the Iraqi government, in pursuit of his goals. He wants more political influence than he has already and has set up a tent inside the Green Zone, which the predominantly Shiite Iraqi armed forces did not prevent him from doing.
The Abadi government that the United States supports now faces Sadr’s Shiite Mahdi Army, the forces of the Islamic State and the remnants of al-Qaida in Iraq, as well as the increasingly independent, heavily U.S.-armed secessionist Kurds in the north. The hard question to answer is why America is still there, holding the bag. Maybe Kerry has figured it out.
The above editorial appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.