Is the United States to Blame in Iraq?

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As the ISIS / Sunni militia advance in Iraq continues, so do the accusations about who ought to be held responsible for the current state of affairs in the country. It is generally agreed that the divisive and short-sighted policies of Nour al-Maliki’s government have given rise to a feeling of discontent and marginalization among the Sunnis in Iraq. However, a series of recent articles and op-ed have taken aim at the role of the United States in the immediate post-war reconstruction period as well as in the recent years as it has tried to disentangle itself from the region.

One of the arguments for pinning the blame on the United States centers on the post-invasion failure to stand up a proper national army, leaving Iraq with a force that has proven inept at facing the Sunni militias. Azzaman’s Fatih Abdulsalam argues that one of the reasons for the Iraqi armed forces’ weakness is the high level of corruption, which together with the persistent sectarian divide render the military weak: “An army that has been built on the lines of sectarian divisions, merger of militias and showering of ranks on whims and wishes and commanded by conflicting political leaderships will have no ability to act in a professional military manner to protect major towns with their inhabitants. These officials want Iraqis to believe them that an army with ranks filled with corruption and sectarianism and infiltrated by armed militias will put a fight and have the power to defend the country and liberate it from terror. Corruption has established deep roots in the state and among the highest ranks and the military is no exception. Has anyone, anywhere, ever read or heard of a corruptive army putting a fight to protect its national soil.”

Some of the criticism takes aim at Washington’s willingness to accommodate someone like Prime Minister Maliki, whom Al Arabiya’s Faisal J. Abbas compares to Saddam Hussein: “what most of them failed to realize is that Iraq had already been lost to an extremist, even before the rise of the current ISIS insurgency. Indeed, while the United States may have liberated the Iraqi people from one dictator, Saddam Hussein, it ended up only handing them over to another: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki….Is the U.S. to blame for this one? Well, the rule is: ‘you break it, you own it’. As such, not only should Maliki leave, but you perhaps President Obama should consider Senator John McCain’s call for the White House’s National Security team to resign for failing to keep Iraq safe.”

It seems that there is enough blame here to go around, which is why the Saudi Gazette editorial takes issue with those who would distance the Bush administration from what is going on in Iraq at the moment: “While we hold no brief for Obama, any attempt to place the blame for everything happening in Iraq now on someone other than George W. Bush, Obama’s predecessor, should be resisted. It was the 2003 invasion which set in motion the process of disintegration for which Iraq and the whole region is now paying a heavy price in blood. Contrary to what the supporters of Bush say, now is the time to ‘re-litigate … the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.’ The idea that Iraq’s continuing horror story can be disconnected from Bush’s war and 8-year long Anglo-American occupation is an outrageous obscenity.”

Still, many of the commentaries single out the current U.S. administration, especially when it comes to the impact of what some perceive as the disengagement of the United States from the region. For example, in an op-ed for the Lebanese The Daily Star, Ammar Abdulhamid accuses the Obama administration for having “undermined the global order…. America has never done as much to undermine global order in the way the Obama administration has in the last three years. In fact, the very idea of a global order has been dealt a fatal blow, largely thanks to President Barack Obama’s inaction on the ongoing carnage in Syria – a development that started on his watch, received ample media attention, and yet, from which he repeatedly and inexplicably has distanced himself at every turn….By trying to transform America into a country like any other, Obama abandoned America’s established role as anchor of the global order, a role which it had diligently embraced in the past. The result is chaos and improvisation.”

What is needed now, writes Al Ahram’s Ramzy Baroud, is a new ‘contract’ to could heal the growing sectarianism in the country: “It would not be precise to make the claim that ISIS started in the dungeon of a U.S. prison in Iraq. But there can be no denial that the ignorant U.S. orchestration of mass oppression of Iraqis, and Sunnis in particular, during the 2003 war until their much-touted withdrawal, was a major factor in ISIS’s formation and the horrendous levels of violence the extremist group utilizes….The systematic political marginalization of Iraq’s Sunni communities is both senseless and unsustainable. A new political and social contract is needed to reorder the mess created by the U.S. invasion, and other foreign intervention in Iraq, including that of Iran.”

But, as Amir Taheri warns in an op-ed for Asharq Alawsat, this time it is very unlikely the United States and other Western powers will come in to the rescue. Instead, it looks as if this is a battle Iraqis have to figure out how to get of this mess on their own: “Each time those perceived as the ‘baddies’ have laid siege to those regarded as ‘the good guys,’ a Western power, first the UK and later the United States, have dispatched the ‘cavalry’ to the rescue….Now, however, there is no cavalry. This is the message that Middle Eastern leaders should contemplate. With the U.S. in retreat, the West lacks the leadership to use its power to arbitrate the conflicts that dot the region’s political landscape….Since Obama is determined to do nothing, he had better also say nothing, especially when it comes to drawing ‘red lines.’ If he controlled his tongue, the leaders and peoples of the region would have to stare at the abyss and seek a way out. Knowing that there would be no cavalry riding in on their white horses, they would be forced to grow up and start sorting out their own problems.”

Judging from recent statement coming from the ruling State of Law party, it doesn’t seem like there is much desire for U.S. involvement, especially of the political kind, fearing that the United States might try to appease the Sunnis on the backs of the Shia majority: “State of Law MP Alia Nsaif stressed that her alliance, headed by Premier Nouri al-Maliki, will not permit the U.S. administration to draw the political map of Iraq, considering that the U.S. administration failed to fulfill its commitments in Iraq. The statement comes after U.S. announcements calling Iraq to form a national unity government and criticizing the Iraqi government for neglecting other partners of Sunni sect and Kurds….She reminded earlier statements that the Syrian question will have its repercussions on Iraq, “but the US administration did not respond to these warnings.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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