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Member since: Thu Jan 20, 2005, 12:22 AM
Number of posts: 11,088

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Iraq doesn't need our help. Or Iran's.

In the past few days we've been bombarded by news reports of militants streaming across the border into Iraq and sacking major Iraqi cities while terrorizing the population and executing fleeing soldiers. Republicans have lambasted Obama for not intervening to stop the rebels, presumably by putting boots on the ground, and the rest of us have wondered where the Iraqi army is and why they won't stand and fight. People need to take a deep breath and examine the facts before hitting the panic button.

First, what is the risk that ISIL (or ISIS depending on what channel you watch), a force of 10,000-20,000 militants will occupy large parts of Iraq long term? Recent gains, quickly made over the past few days, were a result of attacking an unprepared military and dysfunctional government, but no matter how poor the Iraqi army has performed so far, they are nonetheless 15 divisions strong, and once they are mobilized -the insurgents will have no choice to melt into the countryside or be destroyed. In the next few weeks we will see that, while spectacular, the rapid advances of ISIL will be short lived and most likely a massive blunder. The group was able to fly under the radar for a time while the U.S. troops occupied Iraq, but they were eventually forced out by local interests. Now, instead of being seen as a thorn in the side of U.S. occupiers, ISIL is seen as a brutal invader. In fact, while ISIL would enjoy a factional war creating a vacuum where they could thrive, this could be a catalyst for Iraqi unity.

Second, some people in Congress and the Senate are calling for U.S. intervention against ISIL, as if that would solve the problem of wanton violence throughout Iraq. The killings by ISIL are deeply troubling, but Iraq has been a terribly violent place even as the number of killings has gone down many times since the peak of U.S. occupation in 2006-07. Last year, nearly 10,000 civilian deaths from violence were recorded, but largely ignored by the media. The difference in this case is that there is an easy narrative to be formed, and many of our leaders and pundits have come to the comforting conclusion that U.S. military might can solve this problem.

Finally, it is easy to call the soldiers who abandoned their posts cowards and to paint the entire Iraqi army with the same brush. But there is a difference between undisciplined soldiers facing local numerical superiority fleeing with their families and a large mobilized force counter-attacking with the blessing of religious leaders. Many of our leaders and commentators have bemoaned the fact that the U.S. withdrew from Iraq, subtly (and many not subtly) hinting that maybe we should go back. John McCain even said that Obama should fire his entire national security team and replace them with Bush's national security (the disgraced David Petraeus included). Of course, that would be the same national security team that disbanded the Iraqi army resulting in years of insurgency and more than a hundred thousand deaths. All things considered, this is a perfect opportunity for the U.S. to practice restraint.
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